by Michael R. Allen
Photograph from the Place and Memory Project.
Byron Kerman altered me to the fact that Laclede Town now has its own page in the Space and Memory Project database. The abandoned vestige of Laclede Town stood long enough to muddy the history of what was a noble and thriving community development experiment in Midtown.
The Laclede Town page includes an essay by Dominic Schaeffer that addresses the later perception and the early reality of Laclede Town. Here’s an excerpt:
Unfortunately, the abandoned, boarded-up houses stood far too long, leaving the impression to those passing by that it must have been a failure, “the end of an error.” But to those of us who were there, it was by no means a failure. Far from it.
Laclede Town’s success came as much from its social architecture as its physical design. In fact, architecturally Laclede Town was fairly middling for the 1960s. What distinguished Laclede Town from other urban renewal projects was that its layout accommodated gathering places — a coffee house, pub and small businesses. Laclede Town had a “town circle” that may not have mimicked the organically-occurring retail hubs of old city neighborhoods at least provided the sorts of uses found in them. Thus, Laclede Town mixed uses, and had a gathering place inside of its boundaries. On top of that, the legendary manager of the project, Jerome Berger, spent more time working with residents than on cutting ribbons.
The result of the arrangement was that Laclede Town’s residents could actually create community — not “community” epitomized by sterile award-winning housing towers, or community enshrined in a pretty rendering on a developer’s wall, but community that was happening within the development itself. That’s the type of social life that makes urban places livable. That’s something that must be able to happen architecturally as well as socially. Clearly, the architecture was not the only factor, because after Berger departed Laclede Town hit its decline and eventually fell abandoned.